The Ghost of Community Past

By means of an introduction to this week’s post, I must issue a confession. I wanted so badly for this post to serve as a wrathful shot across the bow of what I see as the complacent Christian majority. Nothing would have pleased me more at first than to visibly ruffle some feathers and receive some angry feedback in response. That would surely help to bring about some change! No, I cannot do that. As much as I still might like to incite a revolt within the church, anger is not the match for this fuse. Instead, this post is a desperate plea to a generation seeking change. This post is a siren singing a tale of community, but not just any. It is a true community from the earliest days of the Church dripping of dedication to learning, caring, fellowship and worship.

It was Friday when I got a call from a very good friend of mine. It went like this:

“Hey man, what’s up?”
“You sitting down?”
“No. Why?”
“Chris died last night.”
“Holy…Wow. Tell me it didn’t happen the way I’m hoping and praying it didn’t.”

My mind began racing and after the initial shock had worn off, the anger set in. His death appeared to have been self-inflicted. The question I could not shake was how could they let him?! How did they let that sneak under the radar. It was all the community’s fault. That’s when it hit me. How dare I? Where is the real problem here? The only answer I could make sense of then and still now is that the real problem is not an isolated event, but one that is far greater reaching than I’d like to think about. The problem is that the working definition of community is lying out in a field in the middle of nowhere shot dead and rotting in an open field.

“And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.” 
-Acts 2:42–47

The Acts 2 church is the definition of community! Look at them. There is devotion, praying, care, love and messiness. Yes, I would argue messiness in this passage. The phrase “And all who believed were together and had all things in common,” does not mean we had a bunch of lemmings playing follow the leader. No, it means that these people were living life, every aspect of it, together! Everyone was so entrenched in the nitty gritty details of one another’s lives that they “had all things in common.”

How many times do I see people in church or talk to them on the phone and the accepted answer to my question of, “How are you doing?” is something along the lines of, “OK,” or, “Not bad,” or some other two-word sentence? I’m ashamed to say that would be the vast majority. Since when have people become one-dimensional beings capable of only eating, sleeping and movement? Life is far too complicated for there to ever be a short answer to that question. I know I answer with one or two word responses when people ask me the same question and I stop to think why. It’s typically not because I don’t want to talk; it’s quite the opposite. I want the other person to show they care. I want them to ask explicitly. This is not the first time I find myself to be a hypocrite.

As a side note, no, the first Christians were not communists. Note, it does not say they were selling all their possessions. It reads “…they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need,” meaning they sold some of their possessions, but gave to all who were in need. Also, the phrase “apostles’ teaching” refers to teaching and the sharing of faith.

Here is what I see missing in my own life, and maybe you can agree. First of all, I do not believe prayer to be the essential link between me and my Savior and His guidance and strength. I do not view community as it was meant to be: a caring, joyful and transparent fellowship. I also do not see my material possessions the same way as Gerhard Krodel when he said, “What we do or do not do with our material possessions is an indicator of the Spirit’s presence or absence.” I agree with the idea that the first church “with constant intimacy, exultant joy and transparency of relationship they enjoyed the graces of Messiah’s salvation in a true anticipation of his banquet in the kingdom,” however cognitively that seems impossible in my life today.

This I feel is horribly telling of my heart. I feel this lack of faith is the undesirable result of a deep-seated problem on the personal level. Honestly, here is my roadblock. Here is where my intellect reaches an end. I do not know how to change this about myself and maybe that is just the point. Maybe this community I seek like the holy grail of the Church today is not attained by the means of the mortal human. Despite my lack of knowledge in this area, I do know for sure, this change begins today. Why? Because it must. I leave you with this from Charles Talbert, “As empowering follows petition, so evangelism and Christian unity or community follow Pentecost. The empowering, moreover, is repeatable. So pray!”

R.I.P. Chris